Sparkling highs

Lagunitas Brewing Company and AbsoluteXtracts created Hi-Fi Hops cannabis-infused sparkling water. Are the effects as good as the taste?

A fizzy water that will leave you fuzzy.

A fizzy water that will leave you fuzzy.

Photo courtesy of Lagunitas/absolutextracts

Originally founded in 1993 by Tony Magee, Petaluma-based Lagunitas Brewing Company grew into one of the largest independent craft breweries in the country. The small-town, self-styled rebels gradually rose to the top of an increasingly crowded craft beer heap, gaining notoriety for their in-your-face marketing and over-the-top flavors. Additional locations were eventually opened in Chicago and Seattle, and another production brewery will debut this year in Azusa.

Over the course of two separate transactions in 2015 and 2017, though, Lagunitas became a fully-owned subsidiary of Heineken International, joining a United Nations-style portfolio of brands such as Amstel, Birra Moretti, Tecate and Affligem. As is the case with other international beverage companies such as Molson Coors, Heineken is also looking to get in on the ground floor of a potentially lucrative North American cannabis beverage market.

That is likely the driving force behind the Lagunitas and AbsoluteXtracts collaboration Hi-Fi Hops, a “cannabis-infused sparkling water” that is meant to evoke the sensory experience of quaffing a Lagunitas IPA, only with 10 milligrams of marijuana and no alcohol.

However, the relationship between Lagunitas and cannabis is long and storied. It is no secret that Magee is a long-time cannabis supporter, and the drug has inspired some of the brewery’s most beloved beers.

One of those marijuana-themed beers is Undercover Investigation Shutdown Ale, an “extremely bitter” American Strong Ale brewed to commemorate the so-called “St. Patrick’s Day Massacre” of 2005. Marijuana was smoked liberally around the Lagunitas facility in those days, at least before one of the company’s top executives was busted by an undercover cop while smoking an absurdly large joint at an on site St. Patrick’s Day party, resulting in a brief suspension of the brewery’s license.

Another one of Lagunitas’ most famous beers is Waldos’ Special Ale, an outrageously dank Triple IPA released once a year on the stoner holiday of April 20. In fact, Hi-Fi Hops is not even the first collaboration between Lagunitas and AbsoluteXtracts, the California-based vape giant. They previously produced SuperCritical IPA, a crossover that took two forms: a vape cartridge infused with hop varietal terpenes and a super-dank IPA that contained cannabis terpenes and 6.6 percent alcohol by volume, but not any THC or CBD.

That brings us to Hi-Fi Hops, an “IPA-inspired” sparkling water originally released last June. Hi-Fi Hops comes in a 12-ounce pop-top bottle that doesn’t look any different than a typical Lagunitas beer release. In the relatively regulation-light opening months of recreational cannabis legalization in California, craft beers and cocktails infused with the anti-inflammatory and non-psychoactive cannabinoid, CBD, enjoyed a brief popularity. But they were shut down first by the federal government, and later by the state.

Lagunitas Hi-Fi Hops, on the other hand, is perfectly legal at the state level for two reasons: It doesn’t contain any alcohol, and it is only sold at licensed dispensaries, not at any bars, taprooms or restaurants. There are two different varieties of Hi-Fi Hops, one with 10 milligrams of THC and one with a 5:5 blend of THC and CBD, but otherwise, this beer-like substance contains zero alcohol, zero calories and zero carbs.

The sharp hiss and hoppy aroma when you pop the cap off the bottle feels very familiar to anyone who has quaffed their share of Lagunitas IPA, but the illusion ends as soon as you pour Hi-Fi Hops into a glass. Instead of a gorgeous golden hue, the fizzy liquid bears the cloudy color of grapefruit juice, and while the dank and hoppy aroma persists throughout, the head disappears as quickly as a La Croix.

In addition to getting flavored with dried hops and infused with cannabis oil, Hi-Fi Hops also mimics beer-like flavors by including nutritional brewer’s yeast, while olive oil also makes the list of ingredients. Ultimately, it’s more like water than beer, but you certainly get an IPA-style flavor, and it’s hard to tell where the hop terpenes end and the cannabis terpenes begin, which is probably the point. The taste is fine, slightly citrusy and piney like a Lagunitas IPA, although the olive oil becomes a touch too prominent in the mix.

The budtender at All About Wellness warned me that Hi-Fi Hops hit her faster than most products of similar strength, and those words proved prophetic. I don’t consider myself a lightweight by any means, but it took less than 15 minutes for me to feel the effects of the beverage. This led to two hours of carefree video game-playing, followed by a long and groggy evening on the couch, so no complaints there. Still, I would have preferred a cannabis IPA with a little more alcohol in it.